Provincial leadership candidate Kevin Falcon visited the West Kootenay on Tuesday to discuss his “three L’s” of leadership: listening, learning and leading.
Most of the 30 or so people who attended, however, wanted to talk health care.
Arriving in Castlegar in the afternoon following a morning meet and greet in Nelson, the former health minister brought a healthy entourage, including his brother, the best man at his wedding and the current Minister of Forests, Mines and Lands Pat Bell.
“We’re building an army,” Falcon said. “We’ve signed up literally thousands and thousands of people.”
Although Falcon wanted to discuss the qualities he would bring to the leadership of his party, most of the questions directed at him during the hour-and-a-half long visit were related to improving healthcare in the West Kootenay.
Falcon was appointed minister of health services in mid-2009. He joked the day he was told he was going to be health minister was the day he knew he must’ve done something to upset the premier.
However, he believes that by changing the direction of health care in B.C. the industry can become sustainable.
He said every community in the province would love to have their own hospital but it’s the wrong decision. He told those in attendance at the Castlegar Community Complex that if he becomes premier, he would gather evidence and determine what makes the most sense for West Kootenay health care.
“I can tell you one thing: you will always have all the different communities saying, well it should be here, it should be there, it should be whatever, but what really needs to happen is if the communities and the regional health district can actually look at the evidence and look at something that can get buy-in from the regional district, the health district, then I think that creates a lot easier case to be put forward by the health authority.”
He said he understands staffing concerns are a big issue across the province, but his government has already made strides to improving the situation.
“This is part of a larger problem that governments face across the country, particularly finding qualified, good people to work, especially in rural communities,” Falcon said. “Because we have a government-run system, what happened in the 1990s is they said, ‘well, if we keep graduating more doctors and nurses it’s going to cost us money, because they’re going to come in the system and they’re expensive.’ So they actually didn’t graduate a single, additional new doctor training space or add a single new training space for doctors or nurses during that decade. Now, obviously that’s really short-sighted, so when we got elected we found that we had a really huge shortage.
“So what we’ve done is, first of all, more than doubled the number of medical graduate seats, we’ve established them throughout the province, including the University of Northern B.C., University of UBC Okanagan, Vancouver Island, et cetera, to make sure we start pumping out doctors. Same thing with nurses, we’ve added over 15,000 new training spaces for nurses right across the province of British Columbia since 2001 that we’ve graduated into our system.”
He said it’s always been a challenge to find specialized technologists, such as ultrasound technicians, to work in rural communities as well.
“Now, it is not a problem that is fixed overnight,” he said. “I know the health authority has been advertising for those positions and we had in this case a perfect storm of the technologists from both Nelson and Castlegar I understand have gone on leave … for 12 months.
“Obviously that creates a big challenge, but I know they’re out there advertising, trying to bring in people and trying to cover off the best they can but it is a challenge.”
Bell said he’s on the road supporting Falcon because he believes Falcon will allow the province to remain competitive on the international scene.
“I know he’s willing to make the tough decisions when it’s necessary,” he said.
He added that Falcon has proven he has the leadership qualities necessary as they relate to resource-based communities and industries.
“There is no one that has a better record of investing in transportation infrastructure than Kevin Falcon.”
Bell noted another reason behind his support for Falcon was because of the leadership candidate’s young family.
“I want someone that has a vested interest in British Columbia,” he said.
Falcon is the fourth B.C. Liberal leadership candidate to visit the West Kootenay in the last two months.
People are able to join the B.C. Liberal Party until Feb. 4 in order to participate in the leadership vote on Feb. 26.